Manatee High officials accused of lying during baseball probe

AD Joe Kinnan: Truth will come out

jlembo@bradenton.comDecember 17, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Manatee County School District officials recommend Manatee High School athletic director and football coach Joe Kinnan be suspended 10 days without pay and stripped of his responsibilities overseeing Athletic Department finances after an investigation of former baseball coach Dwayne Strong found Kinnan "failed to maintain honesty in his professional dealings."

Superintendent Rick Mills is recommending assistant superintendent Robert Gagnon, a former Manatee High principal, be suspended 10 days for not fully cooperating in the Strong investigation -- if the Manatee County School Board doesn't uphold a recommendation he be fired in the separate Rod Frazier investigation.

The latest recommendations are based on a 264-page investigation released Monday. In addition to the suspension, school district officials recommend Kinnan be demoted to "an open instructional position."

Gagnon, district assistant superintendent, has been suspended without pay since Oct. 14 for not reporting alleged incidents of child abuse by Frazier, a former assistant football coach at

Manatee. Gagnon attorney Richard Reinhart did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

Kinnan was issued a letter of reprimand Dec. 6 -- the same day he announced he was stepping down as athletic director at the end of the year but remaining as head football coach. Kinnan told coaches of his decision in November.

"The time commitment has been difficult the last few years," Kinnan said Monday night.

A three-time cancer survivor now on medical leave from the district, Kinnan's latest bout with the disease came in 2011. He had a kidney removed in 2010.

He spent most of Monday getting a check-up at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, he said.

Kinnan released a statement through his attorney, Douglas Peebles, acknowledging he "could have been more diligent in my oversight and follow through" regarding supervision of Strong, who resigned as baseball coach Oct. 31 over alleged financial improprieties.

Kinnan called the latest report "far overreaching" and said he "cannot abide and cannot more strongly disagree with allegations or findings, which wrongly characterize my conduct as intentional, misleading or dishonest."

Kinnan said he is requesting an administrative hearing -- he and Gagnon have 21 days to do so -- and has faith "the truth and full information will come out."

"It may be my Christian faith, but I believe sometimes you get tested," Kinnan said. "I've given 29 years of service to Manatee County as a teacher, coach, athletic director...it's been an honor to serve in those capacities.

"Sometimes, you've got to weather the storm."

Because of a confidentially agreement, Kinnan said he could not comment specifically on investigation findings. But he said he is confident the record will be corrected at the administrative hearing.

"I just hope people pay as close attention to the positive as they do to the negative," he said.

Kinnan supporters include Bradenton City Councilman Gene Gallo.

"This is the worst political assassination that I have ever seen," Gallo wrote on Facebook. "Rick Mills and his henchwomen are doing all they can to destroy a great tradition that has existed at Manatee High School. All Manatee alumuni should be totally upset. These people cannot even run the school system and they are now trying to discredit decent people to take the spotlight off of them. It is time that we stand together and rid the county of these kind of people."

When he resigned as athletic director, Kinnan said he intended to return as Manatee football coach. He stood by that promise Monday.

"Absolutely," Kinnan said. "I still have the passion to coach. When I confided in my assistants two months ago, that is what I told them. I hope this in no way, shape or form changes the outcome of me being on the sideline in August 2014."

Steve Gulash, who was Kinnan's defensive line coach for seven years before stepping down last week, said Kinnan told the staff he was resigning as athletic director in November.

Gulash said his decision to stop coaching has nothing to do with Kinnan's alleged involvement in the baseball probe. He said Kinnan is all about integrity.

"With Joe Kinnan, it's always been about doing everything right. He's never wavered from that," said Gulash, who read the report online Monday. "Any time I had a question, he would pull out the (Florida High School Athletic Association) handbook.

"Where (Kinnan) may have faulted was trusting other people to do their job and do their jobs right. If there was money from the district to 5-Tools (Strong's baseball facility), someone made that call, and I don't believe Joe is the one that did that."

The report states Kinnan knowingly let Strong coach the 2013 baseball season without proper certification, and Kinnan and Gagnon "worked in concert to improperly steer MHS funds to 5Tools, so MHS baseball players could access and utilize 5 Tools' facilities to the private benefit of Strong."

Strong, who resigned from the district Oct. 31, owns The Sandlot @ 5-Tools, a baseball training facility in downtown Bradenton.

Money to 5-Tools

The report alleges internal funds at the high school were used to help finance Strong's business.

According to the report, the athletic ledger at Manatee showed four payments to 5-Tools of $1,500 each. Each invoice was prepared and signed by Strong, Kinnan and Manatee Principal Don Sauer. The report also claims a contract was drawn up between the school and 5 Tools Baseball Instruction Inc. The contract, not to exceed $10,500, was to run from June 1 to Dec. 31.

In 2009, Gagnon reportedly approached Bruce Braithwaite, president of Manatee's baseball booster program to discuss providing funds to 5 Tools Baseball Instruction Inc., for the MHS baseball players.

Some players' parents said they could not afford to send their sons to work out at 5-Tools and were worried Strong would penalize any player not doing so. So Gagnon asked the boosters to give the school a $5,000 check "so it would appear that the money came from the school."

In an Oct. 16 interview with Troy Pumphrey, who conducted the investigation for the school district, Gagnon reportedly said he remembered "concerns" about a "pay-to-play" system, but after he brought those issues to Kinnan he "was not sure how Kinnan worked it out."

When asked if he asked Braithwaite to send money to Manatee High so the school could pay 5-Tools, Gagnon said "any arrangement between the baseball boosters, MHS and 5-Tools Baseball Instruction Inc., was an arrangement put together by Coach Kinnan, who is the athletic director and business manager at MHS."

In a later interview, Strong, who denied the pay-to-play arrangement, said Gagnon told him "(Gagnon and Kinnan) had come to the conclusion they were going to pay 5-Tools a blanket fee that gives any kid the opportunity to come to 5-Tools baseball facilities."

Strong reportedly said he and Gagnon worked out a fee of $5,000 per year. Part of the reason, Strong said, was because Manatee doesn't have its own baseball facilities and had to pay to use G.T. Bray Park, the Hurricanes' home park, during the offseason.

In addition to allegations of financial improprieties, school district officials claims Kinnan allowed Strong to coach even after his certification expired, a violation of FHSAA rules.

Certification issues

On Oct. 16, Pumphrey, met with Kinnan and asked if he had any knowledge of Strong coaching the 2013 season without the proper certification from the state. According to the report, Strong possessed a temporary teaching certificate March 10, 2010, when he was hired as a physical education teacher at the high school. But when the certification expired June 30, 2012, Strong was reassigned as a parent liaison.

Kinnan told Pumphrey each year he submits a list of the school's coaches to Roma Glisson, the district's human resource analyst. Kinnan said Glisson never notified him of any certification regarding Strong, and when Pumphrey asked Kinnan if Strong had a certificate to coach baseball or any other sport at Manatee, Kinnan said, "My understanding is that he did have it."

On Oct. 28, Pumphrey said he located an email sent Nov. 2, 2012, from Kinnan to Strong, which indicated Strong's certification had expired.

"Although Coach Kinnan was fully aware that Strong's certification had expired, Kinnan allowed Strong to coach," the report stated.

That is a violation of the following Florida Department of Education statute: "Each person who is employed and renders service as an athletic coach in any public school in any district in this state shall hold a valid temporary or professional certificate or an athletic coaching certificate."

Strong did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

John Lembo, Bradenton Herald prep sports reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7057 or jlembo@bradenton.com.

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